It is Time for some MOOC Assessment Makeovers

I’m convinced that is time for some MOOC assessment makeovers. I’m a fan of Coursera, EdX and many others who are investing in creating open and high-quality online content and learning experiences. While the data may show that these providers continue to mainly serve already educated people, we live in an age where lifelong learning is more important than ever, and MOOCs are unquestionably enriching people’s lives and learning. They are not solving all of education’s problems or eradicating problems of access and opportunity, but it is unreasonable to think that they would, especially in the short-term. For MOOCs and open courses and content to increase access and opportunity, we have much work to do to inspire, equip and empower diverse individuals to take advantage of such resources. If you are not informed about the power of possibility of open learning as a tool for personal growth and development, you are not very likely to take advantage of these innovations.

With all this said, it is time to add greater design depth and sophistication to many of the existing MOOCs and open learning experiences. I suggest that we start with some MOOC assessment makeovers. In 2014, I hosted a MOOC on this subject called Learning Beyond Letter Grades, an opportunity to explore what is possible if we climb out of our century-old assessment ruts and re-imagine the role of assessment, especially formative assessment used for increasing student learning, student engagement, and even the ability to transfer what is learned to real world circumstances. Then I taught a short course for Educause members on the same topic in 2015. And, in 2016, I am scheduled to host a series of webinars outlining these possibilities. My mission is simple but substantive. It is to help people discover or rediscover how an assessment makeover of your course or learning experience can produce delightful and positive results for both teacher/facilitator and learner.

This is not prohibitively complex, but it does require us to look beyond many of our lived experiences with assessment and to reconsider assessment plans for our courses and programs. We must let go of the idea that “tough grading” is equal to academic rigor. We will benefit from moving our attention away from high-stakes quizzes and exams, and instead looking at formative and low-stakes feedback and assessment opportunities throughout courses. It means taking the time to learning about distinctions between formative and summative assessment, understanding the limitations of common “grading” practices, weaning ourselves from treating grading and assessment as synonymous, and understanding that frequent and meaningful feedback is one of our greatest friends in the pursuit of quality and engaging learning experiences. As such, this calls for a deeper understanding of things like authentic assessment, portfolio assessment, narrative feedback, checklist and rubric designs (and their benefits and limitations), designing for self-feedback and peer-feedback, the benefits and limitations of standards-based and competency-based assessment models, integrated assessment in educational games and simulations, and how you can blend many (even all) of these into a course or learning experience to create an extreme classroom assessment makeover that pops. This is design work that matters in education.

It means taking the time to learn about distinctions between formative and summative assessment, understanding the limitations of common “grading” practices, weaning ourselves from treating grading and assessment as synonymous, and understanding that frequent and meaningful feedback is one of our greatest friends in the pursuit of quality and engaging learning experiences. As such, this calls for a deeper understanding of things like authentic assessment, portfolio assessment, narrative feedback, checklist and rubric designs (and their benefits and limitations), designing for self-feedback and peer-feedback, the benefits and limitations of standards-based and competency-based assessment models, integrated assessment in educational games and simulations. Then it calls for exploring how you can blend many (even all) of these into a course or learning experience to create an extreme classroom assessment makeover that pops. This is design work that matters in education.

As I review various existing open courses, some of this assessment innovation is happening. There are promising experiments around peer assessment, for example. Yet, the dominant practice is still discussions and quizzes, multiple choice exams and checking off viewing of a video or participation in a given activity. These courses still have value, especially for learners ready and able to add their own feedback systems on top of what the course provides. Yet, it would be huge progress for MOOC providers and participants if we invested more creativity and thought into robust assessment makeovers of these courses. Let’s get to work.

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is a President of Goddard College, author, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education; leaner agency, educational innovation, and social entrepreneurship in education.